Monday February 16th, 2015

The Maple Leafs kicked off their promised makeover on Sunday when they shipped highly coveted defenseman Cody Franson and speedy center Mike Santorelli to the Predators.

In return for a pair of proven assets, Toronto landed a handful of beans: a late first-round pick, a prospect (Brendan Leipsic) who could mature into the next Brad Marchand and a journeyman forward (Olli Jokinen, now playing for his ninth NHL team) who the Leafs will try to flip before the March 2 deadline in exchange for another draft pick.

Whether there is actual magic in any of those beans remains to be seen. For Toronto, though, this was all about pruning away the old growth to make room for the new. The Maple Leafs got the package they wanted.

So did Nashville. The Preds addressed clear needs for depth on the blue line and down the middle, and added a little pop to an offense that’s already one of the league’s most consistent. They now have the pieces in place to mount a serious Stanley Cup challenge.

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But what was most interesting about the deal, and the massive Evander Kane-based swap between the Jets and the Sabres last week, wasn’t so much the players involved as it was the openness of the four teams to multiplayer packages. Such trades allow teams to fill more than one need while both maintaining some balance under the salary cap and justifying a more significant payout to their trading partners.

There are likely to be 20 to 30 trades made between now and the deadline, and while most won’t be mistaken for blockbusters, we can expect to see more multiplayer swaps like these two.

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Now that they’ve completed one of these trades, this could be the way that Toronto expedites its overhaul. With multiple assets in play, the Leafs may yet find it easier to deal them off piecemeal—or, due to contract issues, wait until the summer to give teams a chance to better understand their own cap limitations. But matching Dion Phaneuf or Phil Kessel with additional assets like Daniel Winnik or Tyler Bozak could entice some teams to initiate talks ahead of the deadline.

That could also be the route taken by the Coyotes, a team with several skaters in play. Pending unrestricted free agent Antoine Vermette (top, 50) might be the premier forward on the market, but even his two-way excellence and prowess in the face-off circle might not be worth a first-round pick without a sweetener in the pot. Pair him with, say, a veteran puck-moving defenseman such as Zbynek Michalek and GM Dan Maloney might be able to land a deal that is similarly structured to the one Toronto pried out of Nashville.

Or maybe Maloney will match one of those two with high-end blueliner Keith Yandle. Just 28, Yandle has been the subject of trade rumors for years. Packaging him with Michalek or Vermette would return the A-level prospect/picks to the Coytotes that they need to bolster their system.

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The Oilers, despite their recent success, could look to kick-start a culture shift by packaging brilliant young forward Jordan Eberle with UFA defenseman Jeff Petry. The Hurricanes could match a high-value asset in top-pairing defenseman Andrej Sekera with Cam Ward, a player whose $6.3 million cap hit they would love to wipe from the books. Or the Bruins could tie Zdeno Chara together with David Krejci and ship ’em out.

At this point, anything’s possible. And that’s good for hockey. For a while it seemed like the cap had killed multiplayer deals, but creative general managers have, in less than a week, found ways to make them work twice. And with the deadline approaching, those two trades may be just the tip of the iceberg.

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